Is Formal Marriage Out of Fashion? Interview with Communications Director of the World Congress of Families Don Feder

In recent years, society is increasingly defined by family issues and their relevance for the modern world. Formal marriage is not fashionable nowadays and “guest” marriages are becoming more common in Europe. 

For many years Don Feder worked in mass media, writing articles for various publications. He was a political columnist for one of the biggest newspapers in New England, The Boston Herald. He holds degrees in humanities and law. For several years he was a practicing attorney. He is currently a media consultant and the Director of Public Relations at the World Congress of Families, as well as editor of the magazine, Newsletter.

Why did you become interested in issues related to the family?

I have a family.  I have been married for 36 years. I have four children, a granddaughter, and now we’re expecting a grandson. I believe that the family is the basic unit of civilization. We don’t necessarily need governments—we can do without them. But without a family, we can’t survive.

What exactly do you do in this area?

To date, there have been five World Congresses of Families: in 1997 in Prague, in 1999 in Geneva, in 2004 in Mexico City, in 2007 in Warsaw, and in 2009 in Amsterdam.  In the summer of 2011 we plan to hold a special session in Moscow. This will be a world summit on demographics. I have been participating in the work of the Congress for over ten years, acting as a lecturer. I have also delivered speeches to almost all of the most influential conservative social groups in the United States. And, in June of this year, at the board meeting of the Family Research Council in Washington, we discussed the problems of families under the conditions of the global economic crisis.  Other than that, I have been invited to serve as a public relations consultant for the filming of two documentaries on demographics, “Demographic Winter” and “The Demographic Bomb.”

Do you think this exhaustive work is yielding any results?  Do you get through to the public?

We strive to convey information to those who shape public opinion and we have achieved some success. It turns out that the most difficult thing is to explain the threat of a demographic winter (a term used by scientists to refer to a period of depopulation due to a sharp decline in birthrates. – Editor’s note). For some reason everyone is afraid of the population boom yet few realize that in fact it is the other way around. The birth rate is rapidly falling. Soon enough in the 21st century population growth will cease on our planet and humanity will enter into a decline. In a country such as Russia, this is already being experienced. The country’s population is decreasing by 700,000 people annually. The number of abortions exceeds the number of newborn babies. To maintain the existing population, the growth rate must be increased by at least one and a half times.

And what is the situation in Europe?

Maybe not as disastrous as in Russia but still no European country will be able to increase population growth at the present birth rate.

In your report, you mention concepts such as “civilization of life” and “civilization of death.”  What do they mean? Which of these civilizations does the present generation live in?

A civilization of life is one that embraces life, caring for families, supporting children and the elderly.  A civilization of death authorizes the killing of unborn human beings, condones the killing of the elderly and encourages people to live only in their own interest.  A culture of life is the one with eternal and timeless values.

There is much talk about the problems of young families.  What, in your opinion, are the main problems and how should they be dealt with?

Unfortunately, young people today are not taught to respect their parents. Young people are indoctrinated with the idea that their parents can’t teach them anything useful and that they must solve their problems by themselves. Hollywood is becoming their main source of knowledge and television is their main source of advice. On the other hand, many parents do not teach their children to love and children, in turn, feel no love from their parents. This is a relationship between a commander and subordinate. “Listen to me, because I am your father” instead of “listen to me, because you’re my child and I love you very much.” In addition, too many children are brought up outside religion. If faith was instilled in them from childhood, they would understand the meaning of the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” They would know that God has commanded parents: “Teach your child.” In the Jewish tradition, for example, we believe that God judges a man twice: once, when the person dies, and the second time, when the children of that person die. Parents are responsible for the fate of their children. It is they who have formed the image according to which their children live in this world. My mother died in January of this year, she was 97 years old. And even at that age she often gave me advice and taught me. I always paid attention to what she had to say.

In that case, is changing the attitudes of families only possible through educating children in religion and culture?

Yes. When I was still a boy, in the 1950s-60s, society supported the parental mission. Today the culture “steals” children from their parents. In European countries, unfortunately, alienation between parents and children is growing deeper and deeper. We must return to a culture that supports the family, supports parents and, in so doing, supports children.

Work, money, friends, and entertainment are often listed as today’s values. What is the place of family in a person’s life?

In this hierarchy of values, the place of the family varies from culture to culture. In Africa, for example, family solidarity is much stronger than in the developed world. Where we are now depends on our worldview.  In religious families, as a rule, there are healthy relationships between parents and children. But because society is becoming more and more atomized, because religion plays an ever weaker role in society, this creates many problems for families. That’s why it is becoming very difficult to assess the place of family on the scale of values.

And what is the place of family for you?

It’s God, family, and the country where you were born and live.

Currently, fairly open relationships are welcomed among young people, while to be tied down by the bonds of marriage is considered untrendy.  How should we approach this problem?

Alas, unfortunately, it is so. But it’s a false freedom. You can find true freedom only in a loving relationship with one person, where there are obligations on both sides. The nature of man is to protect, the nature of woman is to cherish and nurture. The nature of both is to love. That is what authentic freedom is. And this we must teach the young.

What would you wish for young people who have not yet realized that family is of great value in life?

I would tell them that not to recognize the value of the family is to doom oneself to solitude. For such people, this solitude will increase over the years. And ultimately it will become clear how empty their life is. It is very important to acquire love, friendship, and mutual understanding. Still, there are things that go beyond love. These are compassion, empathy and mercy. It is worth a whole lot when someone loves you as imperfect as you are, forgives your mistakes, stays with you to the end. In life, this is the most important thing.

Photo: Shutterstock

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